Seidler, Tor (author). Illustrated by Gabriel Evans.
Aug. 2019. 192p. Atheneum, $17.99(9781534426849). Grades 3-5.
(starred) REVIEW. First published July, 2019 (Booklist).
In an irresistible cross between Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971) and Kate DiCamilo’s The Tale of Despereaux (2003), comes an adventurous story of a squirrel and a pack of wharf rats, whose home is slated for demolition. Phoenix’s squirrel life starts off with a good deal of promise, but when a hawk snatches him from his wooded home, his luck takes its first of many turns. Midway through the terrifying flight, the hawk drops Phoenix onto a scalding, tar-covered road in Manhattan. The now-charred squirrel makes his way to a river, only to be washed off its dilapidated dock. When Phoenix awakens, he learns that a pair of rats, Lucy and Beckett, rescued him and brought him to their home in one of the pier’s shipping crates. The rat community will charm readers, and eventually Phoenix, with its physical and social organization and its unique inhabitants. And organize they must when a notice is posted on their pier announcing its destruction in three days’ time. Sweet pencil illustrations and impressive vocabulary (calamitous! insidious!) are sprinkled throughout, as Seidler raises the story’s stakes to electrifying levels while Phoenix and the rats endeavor to save the pier. Important personal growth accompanies Phoenix’s derring-do, making for a moving animal-fantasy kids will want to squirrel away for repeated reading.
— Julia Smith